A Crime in my Stockings #1: Nick Kolakowski

Drum roll please… because as promised, it’s time for my Christmas season of book recommendations to begin. A week or so ago I asked a whole bunch of fellow authors one simple question: if you could have just ONE crime book in your Christmas stocking this year, what would it be, and why? And a bunch of fellow authors have come up with some fascinating replies.

doomsdayFirst on the list is Nick Kolakowski. Nick’s own book ‘Maxine Unleashes Doomsday‘ is currently available from Down & Out Books (and was reviewed by me on Goodreads a few weeks ago).

“What book would I want in my Christmas stocking? That’s the very definition of a difficult question, but looking at my current bookshelf gives me an answer. I have a very old copy of Hammett’s “Red Harvest” on my shelf, and it’s truly undergone the ravages of multiple re-reads: dogeared pages, a softened spine, and a cover that’s seen better days (it’s the Black Lizard edition). In a magical world, I’d find a first edition copy, pristine, with Hammett’s signature scrawled on the inside. That’d be one heck of a gift.”

Wot no Crime and Publishment?

Sadly, it’s true. It looks very much as though I won’t be attending the annual Crime and Publishment event in Gretna next year, for the first time since I started going five years ago. And it’s entirely my fault. I logged out of Facebook for a few days and missed organiser Graham Smith’s update that there were only three places left. By the time I logged back in again the inevitable had happened – those three places had been booked up.

I live too far from the venue to commute each day, so will have to content myself with reading about the whole thing from those lucky enough to go along. I’ll really miss it. It’s been a fixture for the last few years and one I can’t recommend strongly enough. Not just for the speakers and sessions, excellent though those are, but for the sense of belonging: the chance to mix with like-minded people, to network, to make friends and pick up tips and new ideas.

You could say, anyway, that I’ve had my “turn” and it’s time to let someone else have a go. So whoever got my slot, I really hope you enjoy it and make the most of it – and watch out, because I may well be back in 2021 to fight you for the privilege!

Head to Fred’s

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Just a quick update today, with some news I forgot to mention a couple of weeks ago. This is that signed copies of both ‘Raise the Blade’ and ‘Gravy Train’ are now available to buy at Fred’s Bookshop (formerly Fred Holdsworth Books) in Ambleside. So if you’re in the Lake District over the coming weeks/months, on holiday or just visiting, you can pop in and pick up a copy to read in your hotel/guest house/tent.

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The bookshop is well worth a visit anyway. It may be tiny, but it’s in a nice old building and is absolutely crammed with books. Many of these have a local connection (local authors, Cumbrian settings, walk books, cycling books, books about sheep etc etc) but there’s also a good range of more general stuff, both fiction and non-fiction, to browse. And manager Steve is both friendly and knowledgeable, and always ready to help with queries or recommendations.

 

Sorry – and watch out for the stockings!

It’s been an absolute age since I wrote anything on here. Partly that’s due to Real Life getting in the way – we’ve had major surgery on the house, plus a family bereavement to deal with. Partly it’s due to dissatisfaction with my writing. I finished the first draft of a new book earlier in the year and disliked it so much that it made me rather despondent, and I’ve been avoiding things ever since!

So, sorry for the long silence, but hopefully normal service will now be resumed. And to kick things off again, here’s some advance news on something I’ll have coming to the blog in December. Called A Crime in My Stockings, it will feature a whole bunch of crime and noir authors talking about the one crime book they’d like to receive in their Christmas stocking – and why.

The answers are flooding in as we speak and I’ll be publishing them throughout the coming month, so do stay tuned to see who turns up and what books they’ll be recommending. It’s sure to be entertaining!

Reflection on graffiti

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I’ve been using this as a kind of brand image for some time now.  I liked it for a number of reasons. First, it’s urban street art, which always seems to sum up the gritty feel of my writing. Second, it’s in Birmingham, which is where most of my stuff is set. And third, it looks like a Pink Floyd album cover, and we all know how I feel about them!

I first stumbled across the picture in the wilds of the internet, while searching for something else (as you do). It was being used as a header by the Birmingham Updates account on Twitter, and a bit of judicious digging showed that the photo was taken by Harrison Cantel. Other than that, I knew virtually nothing about it. Until this morning.

Searching for the original picture again in order to set it as wallpaper on my phone, I came across a slightly different version, on Pinterest, with a bit more information. It seems the original artwork is by Lucy McLauchlan, a contemporary artist specialising in large-scale, mostly-monochrome murals. I’ve seen her work before and loved it – these rather amazing birds on the sides of the old Birmingham library before it (and the art) was bulldozed.

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If you head to Lucy’s website and click on ‘selected works’ and then ‘murals’, you’ll see the canal artwork along with many similar pieces on the walls of houses and factories across Birmingham, the UK and even Europe.

As for the canal art location, this is also in Birmingham. Specifically, under a bridge on the Digbeth Branch Canal, a short stretch linking two other canals on the eastern side of the city centre. Completed in 1799, it has six locks and a banana warehouse (!) and lies within the Warwick Bar conservation area which includes a variety of listed canal buildings. I’ve never visited this particular spot before but it looks fascinating and I’m adding it to the list for the next time I go to Birmingham. Who knows, I might even get my own photo of the image I’ve been using for so long!

And thanks to Bethany R on Pinterest for pointing me in the right direction.

Voodoo curse?

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That story missing from my website that I mentioned yesterday? It was none other than ‘That Voodoo That You Do’, a hilariously horrible “missing scene” from ‘Gravy Train’ that I wrote a few months ago and had published in Punk Noir magazine.

It sheds a little light on the strained relationship between Vernon Ball and his chauffeur-cum-dogsbody Bradley, a guy Ball describes as “not the brightest sixpence in the collection plate”. Just why did the two of them fall out? Why did it nearly ruin Ball’s shoes? And will you ever be able to watch Blazing Saddles again?

I think the story’s title must have exerted its own voodoo curse on me, because for some reason I completely forgot to add it to the list of all my other stories on the website. That’s now fixed, and you can follow the link to read the story for yourselves. I hope you enjoy it!

Shiny new website

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Dashing in to let everyone know that I’ve just updated my website with a new design which will hopefully be clearer and easier to use.

I’ve also fixed a few broken links, taken down details of one short story that had mysteriously disappeared, and added another that I’d somehow forgotten to list. I seem to have more short stories available to read than I’d ever realised!

Do pop along and have a look: tessmakovesky.com.

The artwork is, of course, still the same image I had on the old site. It’s a picture (taken by Harrison Cantel) of some amazing street art on one of Birmingham’s many canals. I liked it because it reminded me of a Pink Floyd album cover!

 

 

Special offer on Gravy Train

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So suddenly it’s the first of August. No, I can’t quite believe it either – where has the year gone?! But there is good news too. Because it means that the month-long special offer on the e-book of ‘Gravy Train’ has just kicked off.

Want to take advantage of the offer? Then hurry along to Amazon UK, where you can get the Kindle version for just £4.70 – that’s more than a quid off the normal price. And a long way off the £80,000 the book’s characters are chasing around after!

Water disorder

I was amused to see this headline on the local Midlands BBC news feed yesterday, about a giant “water fight” that seems to have got out of hand.

Not only does this feature Birmingham, but it happened in Cannon Hill park, by the Midland Arts Centre, not a hundred yards from the location I was writing about in my blog post a few days ago. Perhaps Todd and Cynthia went back to settle old scores?!

I’m intrigued to know what a water fight is, anyway. The article is remarkably unhelpful, but I’m picturing those big plastic squirty water pistols, or perhaps even paper/plastic “water bombs” filled in the boating lake. Am I being hopelessly naïve? Anyone got any better ideas?

Birmingham rock memorabilia comes home

Well, for a short time, at any rate. Every few months the National Exhibition Centre on the outskirts of Birmingham hosts a huge antiques fair called ‘Art and Antiques for Everyone’, where dealers can set up stalls and sell everything from high-end heirloom pieces to bric-a-brac and kitchenalia. We visited several times when we still lived in the city and always enjoyed poking about, although the prices were a little too high for us to buy much. (So much for the “for everyone” bit in the title!)

This time round it’s not the grandfather clocks, bureaux or candlesticks that have made the news, but rare photos of two Birmingham rock superstars taken by/of Andy Warhol. The first is of Ozzy Osbourne and includes half of Warhol’s face, edge of frame. It was snapped by a friend. The other was taken by Warhol himself and features Simon Le Bon, the lead singer of Duran Duran.

It’s rather nice that pictures of these two Brummie cult icons have ended up for sale in their home city. Less enthralling is the price. The photos are for sale for the eye-watering price of £28,000. And that’s not both together, that’s each.

If you’ve got a spare £56,000 kicking around (in a blue holdall, perhaps *cough*) then you can treat yourself. Otherwise, I suspect they’ll go to some rock memorabilia collector, or perhaps even a museum. So if you’re a fan of Ozzy or Le Bon, you better get your cheque book out and dash over to the NEC before someone else beats you to it!

Peaky Blinders world premiere

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Just in case anyone missed it (like me, sigh), yesterday was the world premiere of the new series (number 5) of Peaky Blinders – and it was held in the series’ home city of Birmingham.

If you did miss it (like me) then you can catch snippets from the event at this BBC live feed, with pics of the cast and crew, mini interviews, news, lego models (yes, really!), and stories from the show’s fans – including one woman whose step-father’s father was a member of the original gang.

I’d still be happier if the series was filmed in Birmingham rather than just premiering there but anyone who reads this blog regularly will already know all about that from my previous grumbles and rants.

In the meantime, this will have to do – at least until the series appears on our screens “later this year”…

Gravy Train locations #3: Todd’s bench

P1000417It doesn’t sound like much of a location for a crime book, does it? A simple wooden bench at the local park. It’s the sort of place you lounge around on a hot day with a book and an ice-lolly, or perch for a few minutes to watch the ducks. Or use as a meeting place when you’re a grass waiting for your police handler, perhaps?

Obviously, it’s the latter in ‘Gravy Train’. When Todd decides to spill the beans he needs somewhere to meet the police inspector he liaises with, in order to pass on his reports. I could have chosen somewhere dark and secretive, but that seemed a little too formulaic – and a little too risky for Todd. Get caught with a female copper in a place no one would ever go and it’s hard to explain it away. Get caught chatting by the boating lake and you can at least say you’re catching up with an old flame. Which in his case isn’t so far from the truth.

He risked a sideways glance. Not in uniform now, just jeans and a belted mac. Was she off-duty, or did she always dress like that? She was plumper than before, but it had been eleven years. Eleven years during which she’d joined the police and risen through the ranks like yeast through dough. Not like him. He was still at the unproven stage; unleavened, lumpy, raw. He cleared his throat. “Yeah. It’s him, isn’t it? Lord High fucking Ball himself.”

“Oh? Last I heard you were happy working for him.”

He thought about that one. Stared out across the lake, full of ducks and model boats. Thought he saw Bradley’s pallid face, rising from the waters like some Arthurian legend he’d read about at school. He blinked. Nope, not going mad. It was just someone’s over-enthusiastic Labrador. “Not like it used to be,” he said at last. “All gone tits up. I’m not comfortable with some of – well, with what he’s asking me to do.”

“Which is…?”

He swallowed. She wasn’t supposed to ask him that. He couldn’t answer, anyway, not without incriminating himself. “Just… general crap. I want out. Thought maybe…” He stared at the lake again, the trees, the grass, the plants and picnickers and people having fun. He remembered fun, too, once. Fun with her, back in the day. But that had been years ago.

The setting I chose is Cannon Hill park in south-east Birmingham. It was donated to the city as meadow-land by local benefactor Miss Louisa Ann Ryland in 1873 and opened soon afterwards, and it’s perfect in so many ways. For starters, it’s just a short walk from where Todd is based, living in Vernon Ball’s basement in nearby Chantry Road. He can scuttle down there, have his meeting with Inspector Charlton, and still get back in time to wash the car. And secondly, it’s huge. A vast green open space covering over 200 acres, in fact, with 80 acres of formal parkland and 120 acres of woodland and “conservation areas”. It’s the most popular public park in Birmingham, and gets plenty of visitors, so there’s less chance of Todd having to hang around the woods by himself. There are several different entrances for him to sneak in and out of, and plenty of secluded corners and unusual features to hide in or behind.

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These include statues, a massive memorial to the fallen of the Boer War, the footings of an old hot-house or conservatory, a working scale model (above) of the Elan Valley reservoirs in Wales that supply Birmingham with its drinking water, and most remarkable of all, an entire medieval pub, the Golden Lion, that was transported and re-erected in the park from nearby Deritend. Along the park’s northern edge it’s bounded by one of Birmingham’s small rivers, the Rea, and also by the modern buildings of the Midlands Arts Centre or MAC (below), which is where Cynthia and her friends appeared from to give Todd a near-heart attack.

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“Goodness me, you do turn up in some very unusual places,” said a voice dripping with vinegar.

It was Cynthia, emerging from the MAC café behind them with a screeching gaggle of her friends. Noisier than the fucking geese. No wonder the ducks had fled.

Thank Christ – thank fucking Christ – Charlton was still not in uniform. Even so, she’d been on the local news a time or two, reporting progress on this case or that. It wasn’t impossible that Cynthia would recognise her. What to say? What to do? Think, man, think.

Charlton herself turned into an unlikely guardian angel. “Oh, hello, another girlfriend, Todd? Which one’s this?”

“No, no. No. Nothing like that.” He was stammering, he must look like a fucking idiot, but thanks to her, it looked like domestic embarrassment. Nothing worse. “This is Cynthia Ball. My employer’s wife, you know. Cynthia, Suzanne. Suzanne, Cynthia.”

“Delighted, I’m sure.” Cynthia took Charlton’s outstretched hand in a brief, limp grip, then lost interest in anything so dull. “Just the chauffeur, darling,” he heard her say to her friends. “Out with some woman. How sweet.”

He puffed out his cheeks, wondered if this was how it felt to have an actual heart attack. “Fuck me, that was close.”

Todd hangs onto his cover – just – but the ducks do get their revenge. That particular episode is based on personal experience, which should give everyone a laugh. As for Cannon Hill, it’s still one of my all-time favourite parks, even if I now associate it with big tough guys getting pecked on the arse!

GT v5The book is currently on offer as part of the #indiecrimecrawl week, and will also be included in other deals across the summer.

Check my website to keep up with all the latest news, or head to the Down & Out Books bookstore and quote “indiecc20” (until 21st July) to catch that crime crawl deal.